On Sept. 13, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver would receive a one-year suspension in addition to a fine of $10 million after the league concluded an investigation into the franchise.
The NBA released their findings, saying Sarver was found on multiple occasions using “the N-word” and found multiple instances of “inequitable conduct toward female employees.” The NBA also said Sarver “engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees, including by yelling and cursing at them.”
The NBA, commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s board of governors decided to, in a sense, place a price tag on racist, sexist and misogynistic conduct. In a press conference following the suspension, Silver said “there are particular rights here to someone who owns an NBA team… To me, the consequences are severe here for Mr. Sarver.”
Sarver is the founder of the National Bank of Arizona, the owner of Southwest Values Partners, and in addition to the Phoenix Suns, owns the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. He also owns the Real Club Deportivo Mallorca of La Liga (RCG Mallorca), a Spanish professional football league. Sarver was able to purchase those three clubs for an estimated $421 million.
In other words, a $10 million fine will not have the same effect on Sarver’s wallet as it would on many others. Letting Sarver maintain control of his team is a dangerous precedent to set, as it shows money can outshine and excuse racism, sexism and mistreatment of employees.
Perhaps an even worse decision than the fine was the one-year suspension the NBA handed to Sarver. Comparing this suspension to previous punishments from the NBA, the one-year ban holds little weight.
Golden State Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens received the same length of suspension as Sarver for shoving an opposing team’s player on the sideline. Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka received a one-year suspension for reports of a consensual relationship with a female staffer in the organization. Tyreke Evans, the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year, was banned from the NBA for two full seasons for multiple violations of the league’s drug abuse policy.
Silver and the league demonstrated that they view what Stevens, Udoka and Evans did as equally offensive as the racist, misogynistic culture Sarver demonstrated over 18 years of owning the Phoenix Suns.
After the report became public, multiple NBA players took to their social platforms to speak out against the league’s decision.
“Our league definitely got this one wrong. I don’t need to explain why,” Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said in a tweet.
“I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior,” wrote Phoenix Suns All-Star player Chris Paul on Twitter.
Paul’s statement is noteworthy, as he has been a staple in the success that the Phoenix Suns organization has enjoyed in recent years, including a trip to the 2021 NBA Finals. Paul was also a player under former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell the franchise after making “racially insensitive comments” in 2014.
Less than a week after the NBA made Sarver’s punishment public, the Suns owner announced his plan to sell both the Suns and Mercury. “In our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that [owning the two organizations] is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” he said.
Though Sarver deciding to sell the two franchises is progress, it still allows for him to walk away from the situation with a massive profit, making both the fine and suspension irrelevant. Sarver will be able to sell the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury for well over $1 billion and will maintain control of RCG Mallorca.
For real progress to take place, the NBA should have forced Sarver to sell from the beginning, as they did with Sterling. Having a world where price tags are set on discriminatory marks sets a dangerous precedent for both people who currently hold a position of power and people who will do so in the future.